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An Intern's Perspective by Eindra Kyi

Monday, Jun 02, 2014

I interned with BGET for three months, from 24 February 2014 to 23 May 2014.

 

The Thailand-Myanmar border, where I spent most of my time

The Thailand-Myanmar border, where I spent most of my time throughout the internship

 

My work was split between the main BGET office in Mae Sot city and in the village at Grace Garden Sustainable Living and Learning Centre in Noh Bo, near the Thailand-Myanmar border. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience where I was able to learn about sustainable living and agriculture, most of the time against the backdrop of the lush green landscapes of the mountainous Thailand-Myanmar border. The work was meaningful. I learnt a lot from the people of BGET / Sunsawang, who were all very accommodating and kind to a high school senior from Myanmar.

 

 

Mae Sot Office

Mae Sot Office

 

Grace Garden Office

Grace Garden Office

 

This patch of land that now makes up Grace Garden used to be nothing but prickly thorns back in early 2012. And then the grasses and weeds were hacked away in the wet season and completely burned off during the dry season. Solar panels for now only pumps the water, and BGET wants to turn it into a hybrid system soon, so that the whole place will run on sun energy alone. We have a solar heating system, so there is warm water for showering. The water we drink is filtered through gravel, rocks, sand and charcoal. There are composting toilets.

 

 

Water filter (barrels contain gravel, bio-char, sand)

Water filter (barrels contain gravel, bio-char, sand)

 

Grace Garden

Grace Garden

 

The dormitories and the learning centre at Grace Garden are natural buildings. Both the structures are built with Adobe, which is basically the earth, water and rice husk left to dry in the sun. I got to mix the mud with the rice husk to harden the mixture. The hard ones get made into bricks, while the softer mush becomes the glue that sticks the bricks together. And then we make them into the shape of bricks with the help of a template that looks like a horizontal ladder. We sun them for about 2 days so it dries. The structures are protected from the rain by metal roofs. This natural building (construction with natural materials) is contracted out to a local company known as Ga Yaw Ga Yaw that hires Karens in the region.

 

When I first arrived at Grace Garden, there were two huge containers which used to carry oil but now held charcoal to the brim. I asked Kara, my mentor, what they were for, and she said that it was a mixture of manure and charcoal called bio-char, a form of natural fertilizer.  

 

Throughout my internship, we extracted seeds from legumes so we can start planting more nitrogen-fixing trees in our food forest. This took a while because the seeds were encased in long, hard shells. We had to hit on it with pestle and mortar. All our trees start out in the nursery. We have our own vermicompost where decomposers break down organic matter such as egg shells and onion skins, the nutrient-rich compost that results is used when we plant the seeds in our nursery. Kara taught me what makes sustainable agriculture and components of healthy soil. In addition to bio-char (as an alternative to chemical fertilizers in the market which degrade the soil in the long run), I learnt about the action of Effective Microorganisms (EM) and Organic matter (OM) in the soil.

 

 

Nursery

Nursery

 

 

Tamarind seedlings

Tamarind seedlings

 

At Grace Garden, there is the gasifier (makes bio-char) and a huge food forest which strives to simulate a real forest in diversity and distribution of trees. Every tree has a reason to be there (i.e. nitrogen-fixing legume, desirable fruit, medicinal properties).

 

We have many banana trees at Grace Garden, which I learnt are not only excellent buffers against forest fires, but the soil that surrounds them can be used to breed Effective Microorganisms as well. In addition, I learnt about using swales and vetiver grass to prevent soil erosion in the wet season, among other things. This internship allowed me a glimpse of what sustainable living entails and I hope to introduce such earth-friendly methods in Myanmar as well.

 

 

Surrounding area of Grace Garden

Surrounding area of Grace Garden

 

 

Surrounding area of Grace Garden

Surrounding area of Grace Garden

 

FBR Solar Home Training at Bueng Klueng

Wednesday, Mar 26, 2014

Border Green Energy Team (BGET) has worked along the Thailand/Burma border since 2005 with a mission to implement renewable energy and sustainable technologies, and to demonstrate how these technologies are integral and economically viable aspects of improving livelihoods of those in need. BGET's main focus is to provide solar electricity to medial clinics and school sin Karen villages and Internally Displaed People (IDP) camps. Free Burma Rnagers (FBR) is a multi-ethnic, humanitarian service movement. FBR brings help, hope and love to people in the war zones of Burma. Ethnic pro-democracy groups send teams to FBR jungle camp bases to be trained, supplied, and deployed in the areas under attack to provide emergency medical assistance and human rights documentation.

 

FBR Solar Home Training at Bueng Klueng

FBR Solar Home Training at Bueng Klueng

 

 On March 2014, BGET and Green Empowerment partnered with FBR to provide two solar energy systems including two 130 Watt panels, two 12V/105Ah batteries, one charge controller box with 2 pig tails, four DC lights and a 300 W AUVIC inverter to the FBR office in Dooplaya District (K6 HQ) and the KDHW (Karen Department of Health and Welfare) clinic in Dooplaya District. We also replaced the old batteries from the previously installed the solar systems at New Generation, JSMK (Jungle School of Medical Kawthoolei) and Lay Tong Khu village. BGET delivered 16 12V/105Ah Trojan batteries to New Generation, 14 batteries for their DC system and two batteries for their AC system, six 12V/125Ah 3K batteries to JSMK, and five 12V/105Ah Trojan batteries to Lay Tong Khu Clinic, three for their DC fridge and two for their AC system.

 

Project Execution:

Prior to the training and implementation, BGET prepared all the equipment and tools for the systems, then BGET and FBR transported and delivered the necessary equipment to the FBR training site. The BGET team left from Mae Sot on the morning of March 10th, 2014 and arrived in Bueng Klung village in the evening.  There were 24 participants in the BGET training that took place March 11th through March 13th. On March 11th, the training opened by introducing BGET's previous and current projects. The participants also learned about renewable energy and the process of the solar system. On March 12th, 13 participants returned to their base areas for the annual congress in Karen State. The remaining 11 participants continued the BGET training and learned the definition of energy, how solar panels work, basics of electricity, technology of solar sytem components such as battery, charge controller, and inverter, load management, using multi-meter and other tools, testing, and system demonstration on how to install the system properly On March 13th, the participants practiced installing solar systems lead by BGET trainers. 

 

 

Theory training on solar energy

Theory training on solar energy

 

 

Solar orientation

Solar orientation

 

 

Installation practical

Installation practical

Going Forward:

There are a lot of clinics and schools located in ethnic states in Burma that are in need of healthcare support, education, and electricity. BGET hopes to collaborate again with FBR to improve those areas in the future in order to decrease lack of electricity, education, and healthcare. Please visit http://www.bget.org and http://www.freeburmarangers.org to learn more about our past projects and the way we operate. 

Experiential Learning at Grace Garden for IVS and ESP

Friday, Jan 31, 2014

Fourteen American college students from Institute for Village Studies (IVS) and seven Karen post-secondary students from Engineering Studies Program (ESP) in Mae La refugee camp visited Grace Garden in January for experiential learning.

 

Adobe

IVS and ESP students work together on Grace Garden site development projects. 

 

IVS offers a unique study abroad experience through Western Washington University, USA, that combines enriching cultural experiences, opportunities for exploration and adventure, and service work on local community development projects. IVS has been visiting Grace Garden annually as part of the course since 2011.  ESP is a specialized school in Mae La refugee camp teaching engineering principles from mechanical engineering to CAD computer drawing. BGET has maintained a strong relationship with the school since 2004 with ESP students participating in BGET renewable energy installations including micro-hydro, solar, bio-gas, and solar cooking. ESP students have visited Grace Garden three out of the last four years for hands-on engineering for sustainable living workshops.

 

These two student groups stayed together at Grace Garden for one week, January 20 – January 26, 2014, to learn by doing - interacting with the students from the other group, contributing to work projects on the Grace Garden site, and witnessing the efforts of other local organizations.  After the IVS group departed, ESP stayed on at Grace Garden for another week for practical engineering projects for sustainable living.

 

Working on nursery

"My favorite work station was the nursery. It was really cool learning to work with a machete and seeing everything bamboo can be used for. I also just felt like a ninja boss chopping up the bamboo."

 

Over the courser of the first week, IVS and ESP students worked together at Grace Garden to make adobe bricks to be used in constructing the dormitories, set up a cane ball sport court, construct a tree nursery, and make a natural fertilizer called bio-char. "My favorite work station was the nursery. It was really cool learning to work with a machete and seeing everything bamboo can be used for. I also just felt like a ninja boss chopping up the bamboo," one student shares. "My favorite work station was the adobe," another student explains, "becuase I know our work is going to be used to make something amazing."

 

Adobe

"My favorite work station was the adobe...because I know our work is going to be used to make something amazing."

 

IVS and ESP students also visited other local organizations to learn about the diverse efforts being conducted in the region to address the needs of the people fragmented by 60 years of civil war in Burma. In addition to hearing the testimony of BGET and SunSawang, students worked with natural building non-profit, Gyaw Gyaw, visited local Blessed Homes Orphanage, met with students from Noh Bo Teacher Training College, and toured Noh Bo Academy.  IVS students especially were both inspired by the great work being carried out but also daunted by the challenges of the situation slowly revealed to them. “Some of the things I’ve heard are lying heavy on my heart because of the Burmese government and how the Karen people are treated, but I’ve been channeling that for inspiration,” an IVS student admits.

 

Blessed Home Orphanage

Students hear from Ole Jorgen Edna, founder of local Blessed Home Orphanage.

 

The overwhelming highlight of the week was the opportunity for the IVS and ESP students to build friendships by working, eating, sleeping, and hanging out side by side.  “I really enjoyed getting to know and spend time with the ESP kids,” an IVS student shares, “We laughed, sang, played games, and learned about each other’s cultures which is something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

 

eating together

"Getting to know and spend time with the ESP kids...is something I will cherish for the rest of my life."

 

The IVS students departed from Grace Garden after one week, but the ESP students stayed another week for a workshop in practical engineering for sustainable living. The ESP students completed two engineering projects over the course of the week for local beneficiaries. The first project was a specialized charcoal gassifier that is used to create highly porous charcoal for use in water filtration systems and also for bio-char. The gassifier was fabricated for a new high school across the border to enable the school to build their own water filtration system. The second project was constructing a solar water heater for a local family.

 

gassifier

ESP students fabricate a specialized gassifier, a device used to make highly porous charcoal for water filteration systems, for a local high school.

 

ESP students were eager to use their classroom engineering skills on hands-on engineering projects. They were almost equally eager for any excuse to leave Mae La refugee camp. These students have lived in the camp for up to seven years and only one admits to leaving more than once since arriving. For Paw K’ Paw, coming to Grace Garden was her first time leaving the camp since her arrival three years ago. She shares her excitement of venturing outside the camp after so long, “We are like birds in a cage [in Mae La refugee camp], but now we are flying!” she explains, emphasizing her words with flapping arms.

 

solar water heater

ESP students construct a solar water heater for a local family.

 

Most of the students chose to move to the camp for the educational opportunities, leaving their families behind in Burma. These students live in large dorms with up to 150 other students who attend one of the dozen or so schools in the camp.  One student, who lives in the camp with his family, fled to the camp seven years ago for safety after some family members were killed by the Burmese army.

 

Next steps are unclear for many of the students. Two students quietly expressed a desire to return to Burma while others vehemently declared they will never go back. “I want to go back to Karen state, but I lost my Karen state. Karen state only [has] Burmese soldiers,” an ESP student laments.  But, without UN registration, opportunities for remaining in Thailand or settling in a third country are limited.

 

Overall, the combined IVS and ESP training at Grace Garden was a great success. Capturing the sentiments of training, one student summarizes the experience, “I really enjoyed this last week at Grace Garden and Noh Bo village. It was enriching, fun, moving, and inspirational.”

 

pagoda

"I really enjoyed this last week at Grace Garden and Noh Bo village. It was enriching, fun, moving, and inspirational."

 
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Border Green Energy Team

P.O.Box 66
Mae Sot, Tak 63110 Thailand

Office: (66) 55-534-464